ยป Gallery / 2000 / Australia and New Zealand / Sydney /

Sydney, Day 3

The Topless Beach Disaster

Heave Ho

Day three dawns bright and sunny, with an unexpected visitor: the QE2 has slunk into our little cove during the night, flooding the Rocks with (gasp) tourists and blocking our view of the Opera House. It’s a big freakin’ ship, but no matter; we were going to the beach anyway.

Before we make our little journey there’s one piece of business to attend to – buying those paintings we saw the first day. Nothing else we’ve seen in Sydney has grabbed us like the pieces we saw that first morning, and Eric makes up some story about us being one big family to get a good combo deal on the two paintings. Free shipping to the States – sweet!


Greater Sydney sprawls about Port Jackson, a convoluted bay which opens to the Pacific about eight miles northeast of downtown. Even with the Harbour Bay Bridge in place there are still plenty of nooks and crannies most easily served by water, and the ferry business is very active to this day, running on the hour on many routes. At Circular Quay we buy round-trip farecards for Manly Beach, just north of the Pacific inlet about a half-hour away. I bring my minidisc player and trusty digital camera along for the day. The ride to the beach is sunny, breezy and cheerful.

It’s a fine beach, a fairly wide stretch of sand nestled among residential neighborhoods. The water is bottle-clear and cold, like much of the Pacific.

  • Manly is a topless beach.

A topless beach is a wonderful thing. There’s no pressure, but if the conditions are right, half that bikini’s optional. The gentlemen in the landing party get a strict talking-to about how American men harass women at these beaches by taking lots of photos. We all agree that’s declasse. Uncivilized. I snap a Buffalo Tom mix in my minidisc player and walk the beach, admiring the scenery. It’s late summer here, and school’s back in session – the beach isn’t too busy, but at spots crowds of teenagers gather with surfboards and wetsuits. Australia takes life by the ocean seriously, and these kids are getting surfing lessons in gym class.

Spelled M-A-N

Okay look. I respect my fellow human beings, and I realize I’m a visitor in this country, but there’s this girl parading topless up & down the beach, up & down, up &… anyway, I gotta just get one picture to take back with me. Just one little picture. I root around in my backpack, like I’m searching for suntan lotion, turn on the camera, set the zoom. At the perfect moment I stand to set up my shot – and in my haste forget all about the minidisc player, which falls to the beach, ripping the headphones from my ears and filling with sand. The picture is unrecognizable, all sky with a thin line of sand, and I erase it in anger and embarrassment.

The ferry ride back is not so cheery.


Back at the hotel I shake a thimbleful of sand out of the player and manage to get it to recognize maybe four of the dozen discs I so painstakingly mixed for the trip. I shuffle to the Observer Hotel to check my email.

Unlike the States, Australia’s not quite saturated with personal computers. The Internet is still something of a novelty; the adjustment is taking place in public at Internet cafes and beerproofed terminals in bars, where a $2 coin will get ten minutes of connectivity. I start to compose an email to Jeff thanking him for his suggestions, when a diminutive Aussie Robin Williams sidles up.

(Robin Williams, loudly) “So you’re talking to someone a million miles away you’ve never met before, saying you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger…”

A popup appears telling me I’ve got two minutes left. It eats the sentence I’m typing.

“No, I’m sending an email to a guy from work.”

(RW, reading my email to the bar) “I’m sitting here in the Observer Hotel with a pint of Guinness, and I have to say your recommendations are spot-on. So what you’re saying is, you’d rather be drinking Guinness than doing whatever it is he recommended…

  • Nobody likes people reading aloud over their shoulder.
  • Especially when it’s something they’re currently writing, and they’re in a room full of people playing the pokie machines.
  • I’m agreeing with Jeff, you steakhead.

“I’m running out of time on this machine.”

Somehow I’ve engaged the Hotmail thesaurus, which eats another sentence and almost all the rest of my time. With five seconds left I hit the send button, no time to add my name at the bottom of the message. I down my pint and dart out to the street.

As darkness falls we’re seated on the terrace at , a restaurant set into the sandstone cliffs up above our hotel. Known for its enviable view of the Opera House, our table currently has a perfect view of the QE2 smokestack. The service is the most attentive we’ll have the entire trip and the food is good, but the prices are astronomical. The QE2 makes up for its bulk by putting on a fireworks show. We’ll call it a draw.

Eric heads off to find ice cream, and Melanie and I have a pint at the , the oldest operating pub in Sydney. It’s a weeknight but the locals are out drinking late into it, and we strike up a conversation with an Irish immigrant who dreams of one day travelling the States and visiting Graceland.